Safdar Ahmed‘s graphic reportage Still Alive has received its fourth award this year in Australia. His debut graphic novel about Australia’s immigration detention system now adds the Eve Pownall Award from the Children’s Book Council of Australia to its tally – and it won’t be out in the US until November.
The Eve Pownall Award goes to “books which have the prime intention of documenting factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style.” Books in this category can deal with mature themes.
The CBCA judges said Still Alive was…
“A confronting, raw and graphic account of the history and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees under successive Australian governments. Challenging, detailed and well-researched, powerfully produced from a personal perspective — journeys from their homelands and lived experiences are interspersed with history, news events, government policy and international human rights reports and reactions. The black and white drawings, well-integrated with the text, are detailed and the inclusion of artwork by the detainees is powerful. The language is direct, occasionally didactic, and emotive at times. Metaphors (written and drawn) such as monsters, knots and chess pieces are effective in representing the detainees’ stresses and traumas.”
Author Safdar Ahmed, who is an artist, musician, scholar, educator, and founding member of the Refugee Art Project – experiences from which informed the graphic novel – said on the win,
“Oh wowsers — I’m really honoured that my graphic novel Still Alive has won the Eve Pownall Award in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards, which I hope smooths its path into high schools and the fertile brains of younger readers.. When making this comic I dreamed it would one day get into high schools. Young people always knock me back with their hope and optimism, so I hope the book opens hearts and contributes in some way towards a decisive change in policy — where Australia’s entire system of mandatory and indefinite detention meets the dustbin of history. As always my deepest thanks go to all the people who collaborated and supported me on this comic, to everyone in the Refugee Art Project community who saw it go from baby steps to a finished book over so many years.”
The CBCA Eve Pownall Award is Still Alive’s fourth win since it debuted in April 2021 from Melbourne publisher Twelve Panels Press. Thus far it has also received Book of the Year, and Multicultural New South Wales at the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards; and the Gold Ledger at the Comic Arts Awards of Australia. It was also shortlisted by the Australian Library and Information Association in their Notable Australian Graphic Novels of 2021 list.
The Fantagraphics synopsis to the American edition of the book,
“Safdar Ahmed visited Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in 2011. He brought pencils and sketchbooks with him and began drawing with the detainees. Their stories are told in Still Alive.
“Weaving journalism, history, and autobiography, Still Alive is an intensely personal indictment of Australia’s refugee detention policies and procedures, which are not unlike those in many Western nations. It is also a searching reflection on the redemptive power of art. (And death metal.)”
Ahmed also did a 30-minute documentary with the Australian Broadcasting Company on the book which you can find here.
In the documentary he said:
“Still Alive is a work of graphic journalism. It’s nonfiction and it is a collaborative work made with many people who I met in the Villawood detention centre, who I’ve been friends with for many years. I think my art practice is mostly about storytelling, and it’s usually addressing issues that are very important to me.”
“…Comics, particularly in the way they combine words and images, have that unique ability to combine the reasoning parts of our brain, the storytelling, logical side of us, with the intuitive and emotional part that reaches for something else. Sometimes the words can relate the story, but the images have their own power.”
Congrats to Ahmed on the win – and keep your eyes peeled for the book in November. It looks to be quite something.